Most managers want to be fair and do the right thing, but there’s often a gap between what the manager and employee think of as “fair”.
For example: an employee may see a challenging assignment as the manager “dumping more work on me” while the manager meant it as recognition of the employee’s superior skills.
New research from FIU Business finds that employees’ perception of “unfairness” may be influenced by managers’ limited attention – failing to notice a situation due to time pressure or extra responsibilities – as well as by limited information, or not being aware of how an employee feels.
Yet the research also shows that there’s a way to improve that perception.
“When managers seek feedback, they may become aware of fairness issues that they did not pay attention to,” said Ravi Gajendran, chair of the Department of Global Leadership and Management. “They may also gain information about acting justly so that their actions not only are fair but are also acknowledged as fair by employees.”
Managers looking to improve their performance and managerial skills must increase their quest for employee feedback, especially when the topic is fairness. The exchange of information gives employees a more prominent role in enhancing fairness in the workplace.
“Don’t assume that employees will come to the manager; they are hesitant to speak up,” Gajendran said. “As managers, you have to let your employees know that you’re open to receive input from them and it’s safe to discuss fairness issues.”
Researchers found that managers who regularly seek feedback from employees pay more attention to fairness concerns, learn the right way to address unfairness and can apply it to other employees, and improve their performance.
However, for this to work, “employees have to actually provide feedback,” Gajendran said. “If they don’t do it, the situation will definitely not change.”
The research, published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, examined data from three studies:
- Evaluations of 8,706 managers across a variety of industries by 40,000 employees reporting directly to them on how the managers’ actions affect other people’s performance.
- A survey of 46 employees and 45 managers on how often the manager engaged in seeking feedback to reduce same-source bias concerns.
- Surveys, completed at various intervals, by U.S. working managers about their feedback-seeking behaviors at work over the previous month.
Companies also benefit from managers’ feedback-seeking interaction. Making it part of the culture, perhaps instituting a protocol where the conversations will take place regularly, indicates they care about both managers and employees and can serve as a source of motivation.
The paper was co-authored by Gajendran with organizational behavior professors Elad Sherf, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Barry Pozner at Santa Clara University.